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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 358

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This is the grave of George Clinton.

Born in 1739 in Little Britain, New York, Clinton’s father was a farmer involved in local politics. Although just a kid, Clinton readily joined the fight in the French and Indian War. First, he signed up with a privateer in the Caribbean, raiding French ships. Then he joined the colonial militia. His father was a colonel in the militia, which surely didn’t hurt. George rose to the rank of lieutenant during his time, was involved in some important battles and raids, and was a useful soldier.

George definitely built upon his father’s work. His father was an excellent surveyor at a time that was a crucial skill. New York’s governor wanted to offer him the position of New York City’s sheriff as a reward for his work. He turned it down, but instead the governor gave young George a position in the Ulster County Court of Common Pleas, which he would hold for merely the next 52 years. Clinton joined the New York State Assembly, supported the Patriot cause when the Revolution broke out, and was named brigadier general in the New York militia upon the breakout of war. One of his ideas was to stretch a giant chain across the Hudson River so British ships couldn’t float very far past the New York City. Not sure how that worked out in the field. He then joined the Continental Army. He remained technically active through the war but was also elected New York’s governor in 1777. Reelected five times, he remained in the office until 1795. He was most known for his hatred of Tories and his vigor in seizing their lands. He was close to George Washington and was a leading star of the new nation.

Clinton was initially a big supporter of the Constitution and backer of Alexander Hamilton’s ideas. But he soon became disturbed by Hamilton taking the power to raise tariffs out of the states’ hands and put it in federal hands. After all, tariffs was what New York ran upon. He probably was “Cato” writing the major anti-Federalist papers to urge the rejection of the Constitution. When that failed, he was a big supporter of the Bill of Rights. Even as the Democratic-Republican Party was just coming together, Clinton was seen as a natural leader. Opponents of the Federalists wanted Clinton to be Washington’s VP in both 1788 and 1792, as they detested John Adams and what they saw as his cozying up to monarchy. He finally stepped down from the governor’s position in 1795. He wanted to stay out of politics, rejecting efforts to be the VP candidate in 1796. He did stay out briefly, but of course returned to the state legislature and then became governor against in 1801.

Finally, Thomas Jefferson selected Clinton to be his VP for the 1804 election, replacing Burr, who was close to Clinton but who was untenable by this point. Needing a New Yorker, the Virginian turned to the next best thing to Burr. Madison kept him on the role. As was normal, he didn’t really do much as vice-president. He really wanted to be president and decided to run against Madison in 1808, but Jefferson and Madison were more powerful in the party and he was more convenient in the secondary role. But Clinton was angry. So he took it out on Madison. He had real supporters in Congress who wanted to break the Virginia dynasty. Clinton and his supporters managed to get Albert Gallatin rejected for Secretary of State and, even more significantly, got to case the tie-breaking vote to kill the renewal of the Bank of the United States. But he died in office in 1812. He was 72 years old.

George Clinton is buried in Old Dutch Churchyard, Kingston, New York. This didn’t happen until 1908. He was initially buried in Washington, D.C. I’m not sure of the story for why he was moved.

Naturally, you may be wondering why I took this picture at night. I actually wasn’t looking for this grave. I was in Kingston to see the great band from Niger, Tal National. I had a little time to kill so I took a short walk around town. I was walking past the big church, saw a giant grave next to the sidewalk, peaked over, and, hey, it’s George Clinton! Shows that sometimes graves find you, and not only when you die either.

If you would like this post to visit the graves of other 19th century vice-presidents, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. John C. Calhoun is buried in Charleston, South Carolina while Richard Johnson is buried in Frankfort, Kentucky. And who is not excited about Richard Johnson blogging? Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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